Glimpse: Our Historic San Bernardino County Fair

By Ruth Musser-Lopez
6-13-14.  Some were fortunate enough to be able to attend our county’s sentinel cultural event of the year–the San Bernardino County Fair–held May 24 through June 1 at the fairgrounds, 14800 Seventh Street in Victorville.   It’s a temporary one-week “affair” so if you missed it, make sure you mark your calendar for next year.  It’s an annual event–a time when our friends and neighbors gather together to display or trade produce or other goods, to parade or display animals and enjoy the associated carnival or fun zone entertainment.
Our fair is actually an extraordinary event, first of all because it is all about us, here in the largest county of the lower 48 contiguous states.  It’s not just clowns, concerts and cars, but a huge variety of our local arts and crafts, showing off the array of products from our gardens, farms, vineyards and orchards, plus a large assortment of poultry, farm animals, livestock and show horses.
The word fair comes from the archaic term fayre, “of pleasing appearance” and it is things that are pleasing in appearance that you will see here, no matter what age you are.  As a matter of fact, as you probably have already learned, what is fun and pleasing changes over the years of a human’s life span.
For example, I can recall when I was a girl in the 1950s, being escorted along with my mother and siblings to both the L. A. County and San Bernardino County fairs by my Dad.  We had to first be promenaded by the livestock pens, see all the pigs, horses and cows before being allowed to spend a dime at the fun zone.  The anticipation was sometimes unbearable and obviously our minds were not on cows and pigs which we saw every day at the dairy.  It was understandable on the part of my dad, of course, however since he was chief herdsman at the Musser family’s Shady Grove Dairy then on 7th Street between Upland and Ontario.   Seeing the competition was a first priority and he would often look for potential new purchases to improve the herd stock.
When we were young we were taught to be thrifty and learn to do for ourselves or Shady Grove.  My dad, Alvin Musser, or Shady Grove Dairy,  would often donate calves to the 4H Club for the purpose of providing an opportunity for young members to learn “the ropes,” raise them, groom them and feed them.  He would then buy the heifers, back at the SBC fair auction.   The young people would compete for highest auction price and then were awarded for best in show.   Not only was this a learning experience for the young people, it also helped raise funds for the 4H Club and was good publicity for the local dairy business to boot.  It was a win-win situation all around.
My Dad, bless his heart, also set us up in our own business….we politely called it the “manure bagging business.” It was actually a business that he thought up for my brothers—selling bags of steer fertilizer at the “cash & carry” corner store, the Shady Grove Dairy market on 7th and Grove just a block from the dairy in the late 50s, early 60s.  My brothers would sell a bag for 25 cents but paid me a nickel for every bag I filled.  That’s what you call “pecking order.”  Later, they replaced me with a bagging machine.  That is what you call “progress.”  With pecking order and progress working against you, “ya’ jes’ gotta move on.”
Oh, but I must first tell you about the new equipment by brothers were so excited about.  It was an entire operation complete with all of the latest technology:  a conveyor belt to carry up the “dried material” to the grinder, which would release the pulverized product into the bagger when a lever was pulled.  When I bagged we were using a stapler, but with the new operation–there was a hand held zip “sewer.”  The boys were really in business then with a professional looking product all neatly sewed up at the top.
Well, back to the fair.  Its funny how people change, as they get older.  Just like my Dad, I am an animal lover and now enjoy the animal exhibit more than anything else at the fair.  I don’t particularly enjoy seeing birds or animals in cages and small pens temporarily while they are on exhibit, but I do like seeing the animals treated as pets, being cared for and respected while the young people are learning animal husbandry and what it takes to run a business, the costs and work involved.   The animal section for sheep, cattle, and pigs is still a really big deal at the San Bernardino County Fair even today.   There are strict rules including 120, 90 and 30-day weigh ins, tagging and ownership deadlines for livestock entries.   “Most of the entrants are 4H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) with the animals being judged when the fair isn’t even open, and of course Barstow Country Butchery does 40-60% of his yearly business after the animals are sold” a fairgoer informed me.
Thank goodness for liberation and change–“back in the day” in the fifties and sixties, in our public schools, female students were still ushered into domestics, home economics, sewing and cooking and male students filed into wood shop and mechanics.  The 4-H Club on the other hand was always pretty good about allowing young people to pursue the path of their desired training. I recall my first cousin Bernice, who I am very proud to be closely related to, being awarded with her picture in the paper with the cow she raised.  Who would have ever guessed that she would eventually go on to become the “Quilt Queen” of Upland, auctioning off quilts mid May every year at the historic Upland Academy gym to benefit the needy as part of the Mennonite World Hunger Relief project.
Speaking of quilts, the San Bernardino County fair is a great place to show off domestic products of all kinds and a good place to look for quilt donations for next year’s World Hunger Relief auction.  I understand that the entire Building #4 where the Domestic Arts are displayed is filled with quilts hanging from the 30-foot ceiling.
Linda DeLuca-Snively, of Newberry Springs, tells me that she went to the fair twice before she found that building, after which she decided to enter into the fair herself.
“It’s really fun to attend and see your items on display” she told me.  I guess so—she won!  First Place in Peach Preserves, Second Place in Cherry Preserves, Third Place in Prickly Pear Jelly, Honorable Mention in Pineapple/Peach Jelly.  She also won “Best of Division” in the ceramics section plus two 1st places, three 2nd places, two 3rd places and one honorable mention.   For joy!  Bradley YardArt of Arizona gave her one of his art pieces, a clay turtle from his garden display that he sets up each year, and she received $32.00 in award money, plus two $20 gift certificates from an Italian Restaurant in Hesperia “only 65 miles one way” she said, “but what the heck.”
Its pretty amazing, too, to see the wonderful produce that comes out of San Bernardino County from the Inland Empire to the High Desert to the Colorado River – the corn from Chino, the citrus from Upland to Redlands, the grapes from Rancho Cucamonga and Guasti, the pistachio nut crop from Newberry and all of the alfalfa, cotton and okra being grown north of Needles on the Mojave Indian Tribe’s farm. Sometimes you will see exotic fruit or giant zucchini, watermelon or pumpkins that were grown in someone’s back yard.
I don’t know how much of all this is being displayed at the fair this year, but it should be and I plan to look for it next year—especially a display of the organic crops being grown right smack in the middle of the desert with just a little water brought to the surface there at Cadiz just south of the southern most point of Route 66 between Barstow and Needles–incredible amounts of citrus and grapes by the tons.  These crops add to our San Bernardino County economy and tax base while the transfer of fifty thousand acre feet of water a year as the Cadiz Corporation proposes, for use outside of our county on the Orange County coast, only acts to transfer jobs, resources and growth elsewhere, not to mention the strong potential of the downdraft causing subsidence and further drying and warming of our desert.
I missed the fair this year, committed to an archaeological “dig” out in the Mojave Desert that had long before been scheduled for the same week.  I am not trying to make an excuse, but the work was important–the prehistoric site had been looted and destroyed by pothunters in 1997 through 2001.   The looters were first caught up with in Death Valley, arrested, served time and fined about $345,000.  You can read about it by looking up “Operation Indian Rocks” on the internet.
I was part of a team of archaeologists who were following up on the damage assessment and strategy to mitigate or repair the damage done by the looters at two particular archaeological sites evidenced to be well over 2000 years old.  Measures had been implemented around 2004 by a damage assessment team, to restore the site to “normal” appearance.  In the restoration work, bails of straw had been placed in the huge pits dug by the looters and then covered with the vandals’ “back fill” (also described as the piles of cultural soil the looters had removed from the holes while looking for relics).
Our assignment was to determine if this restoration measure worked—but ten years later the straw had been scattered all about by the wind and rodents.  It was obviously a failed mitigation attempt.  The site looked like a nativity scene manger–all we needed was a baby Jesus.  We had to scrape up and sift the straw mixed with the looters backfill to check for any remaining clues of the prehistoric past.  We then set about installing a barrier fill of block tile between what undisturbed deposit was left and the holy mess the looters had made.  It was not an easy task to remove the straw from the soil mix.  On further thought, if only we had one or two of those lowing fair cows and perhaps a goat to eat all the straw that had scattered about, it would have saved us a lot of work.

Copyright 2014 Ruth Musser-Lopez All rights reserved.

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